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Wed 19th Feb 2020 - Giraffe co-founder Russel Joffe passes away
Giraffe co-founder Russel Joffe passes away: Russel Joffe, co-founder of the Café Flo and Giraffe brands, has passed away at the age of 62. Russel founded Giraffe with his wife Juliette and Andrew Jacobs in 1998, growing the global all-day cafe concept to a 47-strong, multi-format business, one Tesco acquired for £48.5m in March 2013. A year later the couple stepped down from the business they founded in Hampstead, leaving it as a 60-strong business that included major sites in UK airports and the UAE. Russel and Juliette met at Hendon County school. The Jewish Chronicle wrote: “Throughout their teens the foodie pair threw dinner parties – he in the kitchen, she front of house.” Juliette recalled: “At the age of 13 or 14 we used to save what we earned in our weekend jobs and eat at ‘nice’ restaurants in London such as Julie’s, Leith’s and Clarke’s in Kensington.” After college, Russell worked at Langan’s Brasserie, where colleagues included Chris Corbin (Le Caprice, The Wolseley) and the late Liam Carson, of The Groucho Club, before moving on to Coconut Grove and Odette’s. The couple then decided to start up on their own and opened Bistroquet in Camden, a venture they followed in 1987 with Café Flo, “named after the Groupe Flo brasseries we loved in Paris”. They built the business into an eight-strong chain, which they sold to Groupe Flo in 1994 for an estimated £5m to £6m. The Joffes then moved with their children to Israel to fulfil a lifelong dream but by 1998 had returned to the UK and Giraffe – an idea “conceived while walking on the beach” in Israel – was born with a name Juliette explained was “child friendly and lent itself to graphics”. By 2004 Giraffe was about to open its eighth site and former PizzaExpress chairman Luke Johnson and chief executive Ian Eldridge were investing between £2m and £3m for a “significant minority stake” of about 25% in the business, with Johnson becoming chairman. In 2006, private equity group 3i invested £10m for a minority stake in the by then 11-strong Giraffe, valuing the business at £24m. In 2009, Giraffe bought 11 of 21 Tootsies-branded restaurants for a cash consideration of £2.5m after owner Clapham House Group put the troubled chain in administration. The deal brought Giraffe’s portfolio to 36 restaurants plus five airport franchises. By the time of the sale to Tesco, Giraffe had evolved across a number of formats, including the smaller Giraffe Stop concept and Giraffe Burgers & Cocktails. Tesco saw the Giraffe acquisition as a key part of its plans to create “retail destinations” and increase its exposure to the family dining market, opening the brand’s restaurants in a number of superstores. At the time of their resignation a year after the deal, the Joffes said: “It has been an incredible journey. Having seen through the Tesco sale more than a year ago and started Giraffe on its next phase of growth, we know we are leaving our baby in safe and capable hands. We have really enjoyed working with Tesco, which has given our brand the opportunity to expand, improve and evolve. It has been an incredibly emotional decision to step away from our business.” Sadly, Tesco didn’t turn out to be best guardians of the brand and by June 2016 had agreed a deal to sell Giraffe to Boparan Restaurant Group. At that point the Joffes were working with son Gideon on Laurel Canyon Ventures, which now comprises the Chooks, Chez Bob, Bob’s Café and Monkeynuts concepts. From 2002 until recently, the business also featured the Joffe’s son-in-law, Sam Anstey, as operations director. Anstey recently became managing director of Mildreds. Russel continued to work on new concepts and launched casual dining concept Sonoma at Gatwick airport last year with TRG Concessions – a more than 15-year relationship that also includes Wondertree sites at Gatwick and Heathrow. Propel insights editor Mark Wingett said: “Family was everything to Russel. As he said at the time of his resignation from Giraffe, he had raised an amazing family through the brand and watched many grow into hugely talented individuals. Unsurprisingly, his children (son Gideon and twin daughters Mattea and Jemina) all worked in their parent’s family-focused business. He was also passionate about food, the industry and his businesses, taking criticism to heart about selling Giraffe to Tesco. Many who worked with Russel describe him as talented and inspirational. He was also a private man and a reluctant interviewee. However, once he felt comfortable his dry sense of humour came through and he often used it to keep this journalist on his toes. He will be sadly missed. My condolences go out to Juliette, Gideon and the rest of the family.”

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